December 22, 1995
Web posted at: 9:15 p.m. EST
From Correspondent Eugenia Halsey
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It seems like only yesterday that consumers were getting used to "new and improved" food labels. But the controversy over food labels isn't over. The government now wants to relax some of its new rules to allow more foods to make health claims on the label.
One regulation in question is known as the "jelly bean rule." It says foods low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium cannot claim to help prevent certain diseases unless they contain at least 10 percent of some other nutrient such as vitamins A and C, fiber, or iron. If that clause was not there, even candies like jelly beans could make health claims.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration wants to ease up a bit on the rule. The FDA's new proposal says food companies still would not be able to make health claims for products like jelly beans. But they could do so for most fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads.
For example, green beans do not meet the minimum requirements for vitamin A, C, fiber, and protein. Therefore, under the current system, no health claims can be made about the beans. The new proposal would change that.
Ed Scarbrough of the FDA says agency officials are not relaxing the law. Their goal is to be more flexible about what health claims are allowed and to permit more leeway in the wording that can be used when promoting foods. (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)
"We were concerned and (the) industry was concerned," says Scarbrough. "Although the new food labeling law permits health claims, we were seeing very few in the marketplace."
The new regulations are still pending passage. If they are approved, new labeling rules could go into effect by April of 1996.
Not surprisingly, the food industry is welcoming the possible change. It says the new proposal would give consumers more information about what to include in a healthy diet.
But some consumer groups are not happy about the possible change. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says the FDA is under political pressure to cut back on regulations. The group also says allowing more health claims might simply confuse people.
"While fruits and vegetables are generally very healthy, some are better than others," says Bruce Silverglade of CSPI, "all fruits and vegetables are not equal."
The consumer group says instead of changing current regulations, the FDA should spend more time clearing up deceptive claims that still exist on food labels. For example, there are blueberry waffles in supermarkets now that contain no blueberries.
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